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I am traveling from the USA. I have a valid L1 USA visa and I'm going back to South Africa with a 12-hour stop in Paris. I have a South African passport.

Can I go and see the Eiffel Tower or do I need a visa?

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To leave the airport in Paris, you have to pass through the passport checkpoint. Because you are a South African citizen, you need a visa. The duration of your intended stay is not relevant to the visa requirement (as long as your stay doesn't exceed 90 days). Neither is the fact that you have a US visa.

(Some people need an airport transit visa if they don't plan to pass through passport control, but South African citizens are not subjected to that requirement.)

Do I need a visa for a short layover in Paris?

To leave the airport, yes, you do. To stay in the airport, no, you don't.

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  • American visa and ticket to leave Paris may help to get French visa, so these aren't totally irrelevant. But that's it.
    – Mołot
    Jun 21, 2018 at 12:01
  • @Molot: Right, at least the ticket is certainly a hard requirement (not sure the US visa is any helpful, doubt it). The ticket is however only one of many things, normally a travel health insurance, proof of means of subsistance as well as proof of accomodation are mandatory, too (may be a challenge for a no-accomodation one-afternoon trip, no idea whether there's exception rules for that). Plus the at-least-3-month thing with the passport and whatnot. Might be more bureaucratic trouble than one would initially expect, so best plan this early, not two days before going.
    – Damon
    Jun 21, 2018 at 12:46
  • @Damon contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to possess a ticket to receive a visa or be admitted to the Schengen area. A traveler without a ticket does need to show an ability to acquire (lawfully) the means to leave, however, so if one doesn't have a ticket one's finances will be scrutinized that much more closely. Similarly with accommodation, one presumably must show as many nights' accommodation as required, so if there are no nights, there's no need to have accommodation.
    – phoog
    Jun 21, 2018 at 13:38
  • @Mołot you're pointing out that these things are relevant to the question can I get a visa? The question at hand, however, is do I need a visa, and they are indeed not relevant to that question.
    – phoog
    Jun 21, 2018 at 13:46

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